Wednesday, 5 July 2017

On Christian morality


In our day Christian morality has become a contentious issue. Christians even differ among themselves about the nature of Christian morality. Somehow the very idea of morality has become blurred. In this essay, I reconsider the grounds for a Christian morality. I ask: Does it refer to timeless, objective values? and How does it differ from cultural values? I also discuss the moral revolution that characterises our time and the consequences for future generations. 

Over the past decades, the Western world has changed dramatically. The Christian values that were previously generally accepted in society are now in the cross-fire. Many people reject the Biblical grounds for societal values and believe that those values are unsuited for our day and age. As such the Bible – especially the Old Testament – has come under fire for the cruelty and God-sanctioned violence that are said to be found in its pages. In the view of these postmodern critics, we cannot take the Bible serious as divinely inspired – and its prescriptions for a Biblical lifestyle are therefore taken as mere old-fashioned ideas.

These are not easy issues for Christians to deal with. To understand the real nature of things is never easy – so much more in the realm of morality. To provide sensible answers would require a deeper look at morality – going right down to the very roots of the concept of "morality" itself. Such an inquiry should include penetrating questions such as: Are there really moral values that are timeless – and can objective morality be defended? In what sense can we discern between true moral values and mere cultural values – and is it even possible to untangle these? On what grounds can Christians expect society to follow their values – or at least accept them as valid?

In this essay, I engage with these and other questions regarding Christian morality. I show that we in the Western world are in the midst of a moral revolution that is changing the way that people think about all these things. A good understanding of the issues at hand may help in our search for the best strategy to go forward.

In an effort to present a coherent approach in which all the issues are handled in an integrated manner, I work (as always) from a Kantian approach. I, however, do not start from Kant's moral philosophy as one may expect. Instead, I commence with his epistemology (the study of knowledge claims). I previously showed how we may read Kant through a Gadamerian lens [1] – that is, how we may use Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophy to enlarge the scope of Kantian thinking to accommodate all aspects of human experience in its embrace. In this essay, I show how we may apply this approach to our moral experience.

The idea of a moral narrative

Before we engage with the moral issues that govern contemporary debate, I would like to start on a more basic level with the issue of morality itself – especially insofar as philosophical thinking about morality is concerned. We have various models of morality – the most important among these are Aristotelian virtue ethics, Kant's normative ethics and Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism (there are also other non-hedonistic forms of Utilitarianism). One may ask: Which of these models is the better one?

Now, this is obviously not the right question to ask. The reason is that these different theoretical models of morality apply to different contexts. Although these models are all concerned with the issue of morality, each one is better suited in certain contexts than others. As we find in all human experience, including our moral experience, we can do no better than accepting that we have various such models. The issue of morality is, therefore, all but straightforward.

Let’s look at the contexts where these theories apply: Aristotle’s virtue ethics concern practical living in everyday contexts. Kant’s normative ethics prescribe rules that should govern society, such as his famous Categorical Imperative which reads (in its most basic formulation): “Act only according to that maxim [rule] whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. Each person should be treated as an end, not as a means. Utilitarian ethics, in turn, asks what is the best action that would maximise “utility” (well-being), especially insofar as the interests of society instead of the individual are concerned: to produce “the greatest amount of good for the greatest number”. It is very useful in contexts where we have to do with moral dilemmas.

One may ask: Can we place these models of morality within a broader framework which allows us to gain a better understanding of how these models relate to each other? This is where I want to bring in the Kantian approach to experience in general before engaging with questions about our moral experience. In Kant’s philosophy in his famous Critique of Pure Reason, experience involves both our concepts and our intuitions: our concepts are synthesised with our intuitions given in sensibility. As such one makes a judgment as to whether the data given in intuition is in accordance with the concept(s) applied to it. In general, this means that all viable theoretical models should be in agreement with the data.

We may have various such theoretical models that apply to different contexts, which are therefore all “true” in some sense. A good example is to be found in the natural sciences, where Newton’s theory applies very well to classical contexts, Einstein’s General Relativity applies to relativistic contexts and Quantum theory applies to quantum contexts. The question is whether we may apply these ideas to the field of morality where we also have various models which apply to different contexts.

This is where Gadamer’s insights come into play. What Gadamer proposed is that all experience may be regarded as an “event” of understanding. As such there is no reason to restrict experience to that of physical objects in nature (as in Kant’s approach); we may just as well include other “hermeneutical objects” within the scope of human experience. These may include any subject matter, that is, any issue that we have to judge in accordance with certain rules which govern that particular “mode of being”, which in turn may be envisioned as a “game” that embraces the human subject (this may involve to any field of study).

Within the context of particular application, Gadamer speaks of “concretization”, that is, when we judge that some kind of particular belongs to some universal (rule) in that context, as he writes in Truth and Method: “Understanding, then, is a special case of applying something universal to a particular situation” (p310). When we understand, we find some kind of truth in that situation. This is consistent with the Kantian idea of “truth” (knowledge) – it only applies the Kantian idea more generally to our world.

Of special importance in Gadamer’s philosophy is the recognition of our cultural and historical conditionedness. All events of understanding take place within our a contextual conditionedness. We as humans do not have some kind of objective view on the world – we are embraced within the world and all our understanding is always contextual [1]. This is why all our theoretical models apply to certain contexts. This is also why we so often find that our subjectively plays an important role when we have to judge between such models – our own conditionedness determines which model we prefer. In this regard we may even speak of “narratives” – our understanding of “truth” is always a human endeavour, a way in which we as finite humans describe some contextual perspective in human language. This is especially true in those academic fields where the same subject matter allows for various interpretations [2].

I now suggest that the different moral theories described above be viewed in these terms. They all involve some kind of application in different moral contexts. Insofar as we may take all “events” of understanding as narratives – as human stories (interpretations) that are true for us – we may recast these moral theories as moral narratives which apply within certain contextual situations. The difference between moral and other narratives is that the first involves an “ought” insofar as human actions are concerned whereas the second involves an “is” insofar as we belong to our world. The first regulate our moral experience, the second our non-moral experience.

As is the case with all human experience, we always understand and apply issues of morality within our current cultural and historical context. Nobody has a truly “objective” moral view on the world – there is no such thing as absolute objective morality. Morality always finds expression within certain ethical contexts.

The idea of moral revolutions

When we have various narratives, one may find that these sometimes serve conflicting interests. As such one may have various interpretations of the same situation or insofar as morality is concerned: various moral narratives that compete for recognition. This is especially relevant when various groups in society try to promote their moral narrative at the cost of other such narratives. This may lead to open conflict. When one narrative which guides society’s thinking is replaced by another, we would have some kind of revolution. When one moral narrative replaces another we may speak of a moral revolution. To understand this better we may start from the idea of scientific revolutions viewed from a Kantian perspective.

Again, I want to start the discussion in this section with Kant’s philosophy. One may have a situation where a conceptual structure (theoretical model) which applies to one context is later complemented by another more sophisticated one which applies to more complex contexts. An example is Newton’s theory which applies to classical contexts and Einstein’s theories which apply to similar but more complex situations. When such models guide the scientific paradigm of the day, one may find a situation when the simpler model is replaced by the more sophisticated one as happened when Newton’s theory was replaced by that of Einstein. Thomas Kuhn referred to this as a scientific revolution.

In Kant’s philosophy, there are actually two ways in which we may judge particular situations. The one is through a “determinate judgment” – when we judge that a certain particular does indeed belong to some universal. This is the kind of judgment that applies in the case of the scientific theories of Newton and Einstein discussed above. In this case, some kind of theoretical model or rule (set of rules) serves as the norm in guiding our judgment whether something belongs in that category. In the framework of morality, this would be a rule that governs our actions. I call these “idealist” approaches: where some ideal (model/rule) is applied to some kind of context. Within moral theory, one may think of Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

The other kind of judgment is called “reflective judgment” [3]. Kant discussed this in some detail in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. This is when we are confronted with situations where we are not able to make a determinate judgment. Sometimes we may have some kind of hypothesis that governs our research, but we are not in a position to conclude that this is indeed true of the things that we are studying. In the natural sciences, this is applicable to quantum physics where Niels Bohr’s “quantum postulate” is such a guiding principle. This postulate is part of the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics.

In general, one may suggest that the various interpretations of quantum theory fall in this category. Although quantum theory is confirmed (through determinate judgment), the way in which we should understand that theory is not. In this case, physicists are often not concerned about which interpretation is correct – they merely work in pragmatic ways to maximise the usefulness of their experiments for scientific purposes.

In the framework of morality, this may refer to some guiding principle for human actions in situations where simple moral principles such as “You shall not kill!” do not apply (war situations, in minimising but not eliminating human loss etc.). When we have very complex situations where we can do no better than to estimate what works in that context, we may use some kind of guiding principle. The utilitarian approach would typically be used in such contexts where the guiding principle is to “maximise” utility in establishing the greater good. Insofar as such approaches are grounded in pragmatic considerations, one may call them “realist” approaches [4,5].

When these narratives become widely accepted in society, be they idealist or realist in nature, they become the “rule of the land” – also on the moral front. There was a time when utilitarian principles guided societies all over the ancient world. The reason was simple: in contexts where one’s own or a group’s basic survival is at stake, you try to maximise your chances of survival. As such you try to promote the well-being of your group, often at the cost of other individuals and groups which constitute a radical “other”. In our day and age, Western society, for the most part, applies normative principles in accordance with Kant’s Categorical Imperative. As such all rules guiding society are such that they respect people's dignity – that everyone is treated as an end in itself (being of value as a human being) [6].

When we consider Biblical morality, one gets the distinct impression that the moral principles guiding the Old Testament are very different from those governing the New Testament. This is, in fact, true: the relation of old Israel with her neighbours was guided by utilitarian principles whereas the Church follows the “Golden Rule” that Jesus gave (Kant’s Categorical Imperative is merely a repackaging of this rule). One may even propose that the transition from the Old to the New Testament involved a moral revolution! To the extent that the Western world became Christianized it moved from a realist utilitarian morality to an idealist Christian morality.

File:Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 079.jpg
Moses with the Tablets of the Law - Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669)

A Christian morality

At this point, some readers may object and say that the same Biblical values govern(ed) both old Israel and the Church. Didn’t the Ten Commandments prefigure Christian values – and didn’t Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount that those values would always be applicable? This is in fact true. When I say that the transition from the Old to the New Testament involved a moral revolution, I am not saying that certain values were not important throughout this transition. Rather, it is the way in which those values were applied in the context of the time that is very different.

When we want to understand the idea of “timeless” values within the context of a changing cultural world, we have to start from the basic question: What is “morals”? The word “morals” is derived from the Latin “moralis” which means “manner, character, proper behaviour” and to some extent from the Greek “nomos” meaning “law”. As such morals are the rules/laws for proper behaviour. The corresponding Greek word “ethos”, which means “character”, shows to what extent the Greeks connected good behaviour with good character (as we also find in Aristotelian ethics). In the Biblical context, we know that the Ten Commandments served as “moral laws” for the Israelites. In the New Testament, these are grouped together under the Golden Rule. This, however, does not mean that true morality is a set of rules. No, it is demonstrated in actions in accordance with divine love.

The way that these very same moral values – say “You shall not kill!” – are applied in society depends on the general approach to morality as determined by the context. In old Israel, where a utilitarian approach was followed, all the rules were interpreted within this general context. Since survival was the main issue, the individual was always subordinate to the absolute authority of the elders or king who made decisions with that in mind. Although those who belonged to the extended family of Israel were accorded equal treatment before the law, the idea of “human dignity” was not yet established and punishment was severe.

Those who belonged to other nations – especially enemy nations which might have endangered Israel’s survival – were treated as enemies who had no moral standing. Kill or be killed was the rule – to rape, plunder or kill those from enemy nations was the general practice in the ancient world. Since the Israelites regarded the earthly world as belonging to the kingdom of God (or realm of the gods), there was no contradiction in executing the judgment of God on His enemies. Killing people in accordance with divine judgment was viewed on the same level as God Himself judging them for their sins (see [7] for a more detailed discussion of the problem of “divine cruelty” in the Old Testament).

Critics often mention incidents of “divine cruelty” in the Old Testament to discredit the Bible as a source of divine revelation. Some think that old Israel should have acted in accordance with our moral principles – which these critics think have universal application. They expect that God should somehow have spoken to Israel in a way that would have been in radical conflict with their deep-seated culturally-conditioned values – and expect that they would have been able to make sense of that! They obviously would not have made sense of our values in the same way that we cannot make sense of theirs.

The problem is that we are ourselves culturally-conditioned and it is impossible for us to understand those things. The philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) spoke of our “thrownness” in this regard – we are irrevocably blinded by our own cultural conditionedness. Think of it: only thirty years ago it was generally accepted practice in our society that those guilty of certain misdeeds were whipped with up to forty lashes! In my view, the cruelty in the Bible is actually a strong indicator that it originated in exactly the contexts mentioned.

But let us move to New Testament values. What is unique to the New Testament is the idea that humans have special value in the eyes of God. God sent his son Jesus Christ to die for our sins (to state it simply; Joh. 3:16) because of His love for us. In the New Testament era, the idea of human dignity transformed the way that we regard people in general – every single person is regarded as having such dignity and should be treated as such with respect. Christian communities are to treat even their enemies in accordance with God’s love. Now, the command: “You shall not kill!” becomes a general rule that applies to all humans (some Christians would even say: to all circumstances).

When we now compare the Old and New Testament contexts, it is immediately clear that, although the very same moral principles applied/apply, the way in which they were/are applied are very different. Although one may accept that there are certain “archetypal moral values” such as “You shall not kill!”, these are always realised in some concrete context in accordance with some kind of overall moral approach, be it a utilitarian one or in accordance with the Golden Rule. One can therefore not speak in any realistic manner of “objective morality” as something that applies to all contexts in the same way! Even in the New Testament era, the application of the Golden Rule may lead to different outcomes since Christians have different ways of interpreting situations.

So, what is the essence of morality? Is it just some archetypal values? Of particular interest in this regard is the fact that we do not find an “ought” in the animal kingdom – it just does not make sense!! No animal ought to do anything. This means that morality is something that only concerns humans. Why would that be? The answer is simple: all morality – even that which involves utilitarian decisions – is grounded in the idea of human dignity. We are special in some way. The whole Christian message centres around this very basic idea: humans have special value – in the eyes of God.

How would one explain this special value that we instinctively know that all humans beings have? In the Christian view, humans are different from animals in that they are made in the “image of God”, that is, that they have spirits which animals do not have. As such humans belong to the domain where the competing principles of good and evil always require some “choice” [8, 9]. Humans can decide whether to do or not to do what is good in accordance with moral principles. Actually, human dignity has as its exact counterpart the ability of human choice – since we have dignity we also have the ability to live in accordance with that dignity and to treat other people in accordance with their dignity.

A practical outflow is that our whole criminal justice system operates on the basis of human choice. One may have all sorts of philosophical ideas about these things, but the bottom line is that the whole structure of any stable society is grounded on these principles. The Christian principles of human dignity and human choice are the basis of societal structure.

Nature and natural law

There is, however, one outstanding issue. There are certain moral values that are seemingly in contrast with Biblical prescriptions but which are not in conflict with human dignity. Take, for example, the Biblical prescriptions for marriage. Although the Bible seems to insist on heterosexual marriage (see below), one may argue that homosexual marriage is also in line with human dignity. Does this mean that such values are merely cultural and are not true moral values? And: How would we be able to distinguish between these two kinds of values?

According to the Bible, God revealed Himself not only in Scripture but also through nature. St. Paul wrote a long argument in support of this in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 1:18-32. As such Christians always had a teleological view of nature as revealing not only the Creator God’s design as something beautiful but also his plan/goal for mankind. As such Scripture and nature complement each other – both reveal God’s prescribed order for human living.

When St. Paul discusses relations between the same gender, he refers to affections – both of women and men with others of the same gender – in its “natural use” as well as “that which is against nature” (Rom. 1:26, 27). What does he mean by this? In the context of the whole section which focuses on God revealing His purpose in nature, there cannot be any doubt that he refers to the fact that the natural use of sexuality has a purpose: to produce children. This does not mean that the “natural use” of sexuality excludes enjoyment of sex, but rather that God’s order is that it should be confined to the context of heterosexual marriage.

When one excepts that this is the God-ordained order of things, then same-gender sexual relationships, which are exactly the inverse of heterosexual relationships, can only be viewed as built upon another basis, which is also found in nature, but which is always rejected in the New Testament as being in conflict with living through the Spirit, namely carnal “lust” or carnal desires (Rom. 1:27). In St. Paul’s analysis such “love” is not “natural affection”, but rather “vile affection” (Rom. 1:26, 31). Even when this kind of sexuality is brought within the framework of the marriage – taken as a Christian kind of bond between two people – it would fall outside the order that God revealed in nature. As such natural law and nature – i.e. natural (carnal) desires – stand forever in conflict with each other.

One can now easily see how cultural values differ from moral values – all true moral values flow from the basic principles of natural law – which include human dignity as a basic moral value underlying all moral law – whereas cultural values belong to certain cultural contexts. In this regard St. Paul sometimes mentions that he gives his opinion in these matters but that they are not to be taken as divine commands (1 Cor. 7:12). The only true moral values are those in accordance with natural law as elucidated by Scripture – all other values reflect the ethics of human endeavour.

The fact that St. Paul calls upon natural law when defending the exclusivity of the Christian marriage as being between one man and one woman – which is consistent with the earliest archetype of Adam and Eve – shows that he regarded it as an important point of departure in establishing Christian morality [10]. As such Christian morality could be contrasted with all other kinds of morality which humans may want to implement in accordance with their own ideas. Christian morality is obviously not the only kind of morality available to humans. So, why should we live in accordance with Christian morality? To live in accordance with Christian morality is in the final instance a choice. It is a choice to live in accordance with God’s purpose for our lives. 

Critics have brought various kinds of objections against Christian morality. Some have tried to reinterpret Scripture in such a way that gay marriage is also allowed. Postmodernist hermeneutics allows for that since it does not treat the Biblical text with respect – the dignity of the authors in saying things is not respected (only that of the contemporary reader is of any real consequence) [11]. They use all sorts of deconstructionist methods to argue either that those views are not valid for our day and age or that the Biblical support for heterosexual marriage is not necessarily against gay marriage. Others argue that science – that is, true natural “laws” – supports the idea that a gay identity is somehow determined by genetic or physiological conditions. Again, the problem is that the scientific evidence is open to interpretation which allows for other readings of the facts.

Of particular importance to our discussion is the fact that Western society has embraced alternative lifestyles on an equal footing with the Christian marriage [12]. In our day the essential word is “choice”. And one may ask: Is choice in moral matters not exactly in line with the essence of morality? To choose what is right for you (maximising human freedom) and not to discriminate between people on any basis. This also seems to be in line with another basic human value: love. In this regard, the new rule of the game is “human rights”. All have the right to equal treatment and to order their private lives in a manner that they see fit. As this stands, it implies a balanced treatment of moral narratives on an equal footing in society.

Although this may seem fine – even for many Christians – there is one problem that is going to become more accentuated as the conflict between moral views grows. This is that human rights do not constitute a singular criterium in the same way as human dignity (as a basic value). As such human rights allow for subjective interpretations regarding the equality of such rights. When a conflict between rights arose, the justice system must decide which is more fundamental. In this way, the supreme courts become the final arbiter regulating morality, which is the reason why there is such an enormous struggle in the US regarding appointments to the Supreme Court – judges from a Democratic Party background, in general, follow a more pragmatic approach in making judgments. They take contemporary societal perceptions into account. As such this comes down to a utilitarian approach – determining which choice is for the greater good of the majority [13].

We are actually in the midst of a moral revolution in the Western world. All gloves are off and LGBT activists ("social justice warriors") lead a drive to secure their rights’ superior recognition. The real danger is that this may eventually lead to a situation where this infringes on the religious rights of Christians – which they may experience as discriminatory. As such it may not produce a neutral situation where all are respected, but rather where some are persecuted.

In my view, this moral revolution is going to lead to the persecution of Christians in the Western world in exactly the same way that many revolutions and counter-revolutions led to the persecution of opponents. The reason why this is likely to happen is that postmodern values are grounded in a postmodern ideology which has no mercy in establishing its dominance. From a philosophical angle, it would be ironic when postmodernism – which is supposed to criticise power and embrace the other – enthrones a new elite as the priests of a new moral order who persecute that other.

Conclusion

In this essay, I give a short overview of issues concerning morality. Morality is one of the most difficult things to write about. Due to the psychological conditioning of our times, people are often afraid to say what they think in this regard! Sometimes persons are viciously attacked for their views – and it is not difficult to see who’s side the establishment media is on. Although it is not easy to obtain a clear view as to what Christian morality means and how all the current moral issues relate to the larger moral picture, we should make an effort to always gain a better understanding.

I show that we can always formulate various possible moral narratives which are applicable to different contexts. Some narratives – such as the Christian and postmodern ones – are in direct conflict with each other. They view the same things very differently. Some of the issues, for example, those concerning a gay lifestyle and identity, are complicated. One may, however, assert that the essential feature of human morality is choice. In the end, we have to say that our identity is never given, it is always something that we are able to rework and change. Even in the face of great challenges on many levels, we are able to establish an identity of our own choice [14]. In the Christian view, there are no limits to what God can do in helping us in this process [15].

I argue that we are in the midst of a moral revolution in the Western world. Most people are aware that things are changing and that the outcome may have serious consequences for their lives. All revolutions are in the end about power – to overthrow the current order and to gain power. This may have very bad consequences for Christians over the long term. Still, many sit on the fence. Many Christians think that promoting “love” cannot be a bad thing. The problem is that the line between love and hate is sometimes much closer than one thinks. 

[2] We find this even in the natural sciences where various interpretations of quantum physics are possible. The kind of interpretation that one prefers is determined by your own conditionedness, that is, your particular cultural and scholarly education (and even your particular psychology!).
[3] Gadamer does not distinguish between these two kinds of judgment. In his view, these cannot be sufficiently distinguished. In my view, they serve an important purpose in allowing us to distinguish between idealist and realist (pragmatic) approaches in all understanding.
[4] In international politics we may regard the ideal of a rule-based world as an expression of an idealist approach whereas the realist guiding principle of geopolitics serves governments well in trying to maximise their power in certain geographical contexts. These two approaches were in conflict during President Obama’s second term when he tried to assert a rule-based international order whereas President Putin followed a realist geopolitical approach. These came into conflict insofar as Crimea and Syria were concerned. Obama made the mistake of thinking that others are somehow constrained to follow the idealist approach propagated by the West - and in the process, the West lost significant ground to Russian, Iranian, Chinese and other interests. 
These two approaches may also govern domestic politics within a society where groups adhering to them may come in conflict in the context of political revolutions and counter-revolutions such as those seen during the Arab Spring.
[5] Although I take Kantian morality as normative and Utilitarianism as pragmatic, this just concerns the manner of application. Utilitarianism is actually also normative – but I read this in the sense of “guiding principle”, not as a “categorical” rule.
[6] Even in our day and age there are societies that primarily use a utilitarian approach to morality. We find it especially in autocracies, where the application of all moral principles is subject to the survival of the group which is in power. In such cases, those with opposing views are regarded as a radical other and are not accorded the same moral value than those from the ruling clan.
[8] In Kantian philosophy the human soul belongs to the noumenal realm governed by spontaneity – which is what makes freedom to choose possible. As such the soul does not belong to this material world – it belongs to another world which Kant also describes as the world of our future hope. I argued elsewhere that the noumenal realm is merely a new conceptualization of the old idea of a spiritual world (or spirit world) [16]. As such our soul somehow includes an eternal spiritual aspect (the human spirit) – which would be what gives humans special value above animals and which also enables them (at the same time) to make free choices (since it belongs to the realm of freedom). Christian morality includes human dignity as well as human choice to live in accordance with the moral law.
[9] Some critics think that a good God who exists but do nothing while humans do evil is a contradiction in terms. If He is almighty (i.e. God), why does He not do away with all evil? The problem here is with the constrained nature of our human understanding. These critics have to prove that this is indeed a true dichotomy and not a false one, which they can obviously not do. In my view, it is, in fact, a false dichotomy. A good God may exist along with evil in the world just as spontaneity and determinism co-exist in our world (as we know is the case since the discovery of quantum physics).
[10] One may ask: If gay marriage between two consenting adults is consistent with our human dignity, why should one accept a further narrowing of decent marriage practice in accordance of St. Paul's interpretation of natural law to only include heterosexual relations - especially since one may read natural law as making relations between people of the same gender possible in the first place? At this point, the issue of Biblical authority enters the discussion. Christians ascribe authority to Biblical authors such as St. Paul on the grounds that the Bible is divinely inspired. As such it reveals God's Will for us.
Biblical Criticism, which rejects the idea of the divine inspiration of Scripture, at the same time rejects the authority of the Bible in such matters. Traditional Christianity, which asserts the divine inspiration of Scripture, takes St. Paul's writing as authoritative. Insofar as Biblical Criticism has undermined traditional Biblical morality within the context of the current moral revolution, one is reminded of the story of Red Riding Hood and the wolf.
[12] There was a lot of discussions recently about so-called “fake news” and a “post-truth” world. In the US, the establishment media and the Trump administration accuse each other of producing a false presentation of things. Although there are obviously certain “facts” of the matter, some things are not so clear-cut and intentions are also important. News always involves an element of interpretation. Over the last few decades, the establishment media has actually become biased in a very subtle way, not insofar as basic news is concerned, but in enforcing a certain worldview which is much more in line with LBGT rights than Christian values. This means that they are not a neutral player in society. They influence people – one may speak of the mind-forming media. As such they stand in exact opposition to the Trump administration’s presumed Christian viewpoint. One may even suggest that the fight about the interpretation of many other issues, in the end, serves to promote a particular moral view of the world.
[13] When these dangers are recognised, the leaders of society should work together to find a golden middle way. Although this may not be easy and everybody would not be happy in the end, it may result in all religious and moral views being respected in society. I would recommend an approach which does not bring these positions into conflict with each other as we find in the US, but where harmony is established for the greater good and prosperity of all.
[14] Atheism and gay activists collide when they assert that our lives are somehow mechanistically determined.
[15] There are many testimonies of ex-gays who embraced Christian morality. See the dvd "Such were some of you" (1 Cor. 6:11).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
Dialoger

The author is a scientist and philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy and science. 




Thursday, 1 June 2017

Science and Atheism

I focus on the seemingly close relationship between science and atheism. Why is that so? I argue that the primary reason is that certain scientists and most atheists share a common modernist philosophical framework that goes back to the Enlightenment. I discuss the historical reasons for this situation and show why current philosophical thinking rejects that view as discredited. I present a better philosophical framework - a middle-of-the-road approach between modernism and postmodernism - that includes not only science but all the human sciences, the hermeneutical disciplines and even art in its embrace.

In the context of the conversation between Christians and atheists, we now come to another important issue, namely the fact that many scientists - especially natural scientists - are also atheists. I think most people would concur that this observation is correct. This immediately introduces the question as to why this is the case? Does it mean that scientists as experts know better than other people what is true in metaphysical matters? Or is it merely the critical stance that scientists take towards their object of study which influences their stance towards religion? What is the reason for the seemingly close relationship between atheism and science?

Although there are many possible answers that people may give to this question, I believe that the one that really goes to the bottom of the issue involves a certain philosophical perspective which such atheistic scientists have on the world. It is true that many scientists are not well-educated in philosophy and are not even aware of the philosophical presuppositions that they bring to science, but there nonetheless cannot be any question that for historical reasons, science was and is strongly influenced by the modernist philosophy which stood at its cradle.

I argue in this essay that the reason why so many scientists are atheists is that they share the modernist philosophical framework which originated in the Enlightenment – which is also the case with many other atheists and agnostics who take them as role models. So, the actual question is one concerning such philosophical frameworks. In a previous essay, I considered atheism and Christianity in terms of their metaphysical worldviews (i.e. in thinking about the world as it "really" is; part 3). Now I consider them in the context of philosophical thinking.

In my view atheists strengthen their standing in society through their association with science. When most people think of science, they think of a no-nonsense, objective methodological approach that goes beyond all subjective opinions. Through its association with science, atheism is often also cast in such terms. The problem is that this is actually a case of honor by association, where atheism gains some honor in society due to their close relation with science (which is a fallacy in thinking).

When one, however, understands that the real reason for the relationship between atheism and science (to the extent that this is true) is a common discredited philosophical framework, the situation changes a lot. What I assert is that there is no direct relationship between atheism and science except that, for the most part, atheistic scientists such as Richard Dawkins (and their followers) adhere to an outdated philosophical perspective.

In this essay, I am primarily concerned with the basic philosophical frameworks that govern contemporary thinking, especially modernism (Enlightenment humanism) as viewed in the context of our postmodern era and how this relates to the atheist-Christian conversation. (As always) I work from a Kantian angle to bring these perspectives into focus – showing that both modernism and postmodernism belong to the extremes of philosophical thinking.

I also show how we may use Immanuel Kant’s philosophy in combination with that of Hans-Georg Gadamer to establish a middle of the road philosophical approach in which science, the human sciences, the hermeneutical disciplines and even art are all part of one coherent outlook on life. I show that whereas atheism is closely connected with modernism and religious plurality with postmodernism, Christianity finds its natural place within the space between these extremes. As such Christianity is - in my evaluation - more in line with a balanced philosophical understanding of our world than any of the other metaphysical worldviews.

Modernism – a historical perspective

When we consider the issue of modernism in science and elsewhere in society, it is important to remember that this term can be understood in various ways. In this essay, I am only concerned with the contemporary understanding of the word as a reflection on the thinking of the modern era from the perspective of our postmodern era insofar as society has moved beyond modernism.

As such modernism is understood in the context of the reaction of postmodern thought (but not only postmodernism, as we will see) against the ways of thinking that belonged to the so-called modern period (from the Enlightenment to the middle of the twentieth century), in some way as its direct opposite. So, the term modernism refers to a philosophical school of thought which originated in the modern period – it is retrospectively so applied. Although modernism lost its prominence in current philosophical thought, it is still alive and well in certain circles in the UK and US.

What does modernism mean? By modernism, I refer to the Enlightenment ideal of achieving absolute objectivity in science. Within modern philosophy, the idea developed (starting with René Descartes (1596-1650)) that science could obtain some Archimedean point from where the observer could achieve an objective perspective on the subject of inquiry. In philosophy, the pursuit of this ideal of absolute objectivity reached its climax in the neo-Kantian and Logical Empiricist (Logical Positivist) schools of thought during the first part of the twentieth century.

The impact of the Logical Empiricists was the greatest – especially in the Anglo-American world. On the one hand these proponents of a “scientific philosophy” valued logic and mathematics, on the other they were the true heirs of British empiricism. They accentuated the “scientific world conception” and articulated the scientific method and a scientific conception of philosophy as a liberation of the mind from the "metaphysical shackles that keep society down", especially in the context of culture. They had an enormous influence on Analytic (English) philosophy and the philosophy of science. One may even say that the spirit of the movement still has adherents. Many philosophers and lay people took one of the founders of this school, the atheist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), as a role model.

The central feature of modernism is that science can obtain an objective view of the world in which all non-objective and subjective perspectives are removed. As such science is the only true measure of reality available to us – all other measures are suspect since they do not adhere to strict scientific standards and cannot be verified (the verifiability criterion [1]). This means that all of human life – including the human sciences and hermeneutic disciplines – should be measured only in terms of science.

In practice, this led to a scientism view on reality – "objective" science alone can be trusted since it is the only true and objective measure of reality. As such "objective" science was and is used to make pronouncements about the totality of existence. All other perspectives are considered to be mere “metaphysics”. There cannot be any space for God or gods in this view. In this way, modernism inspired not merely to a certain philosophical goal – that of absolute objectivity – but also an atheistic worldview based on that. Modernist science and atheism were both grounded on the modernist philosophical perspective.

This elevation of the ideal of objectivity to be the measure of all reality led to a reaction which is especially pronounced in postmodernism, originating already in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) but which only became a large movement and framework of philosophical thought during the second part of the twentieth century. Whereas modernism is primarily concerned with science, postmodernism takes its impulse primarily from art. As such we may consider postmodernism as the heirs of the romanticism of post-Kantian philosophy.

When the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard for the first time used the word “postmodern” in his booklet The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), he argued for a plurality of narratives as standing opposed to so-called “metanarratives” (one overarching narrative), of which that of the sciences is one of the most important ones. Instead of one objective meaning, we find that a plurality of meaning is celebrated in postmodernism as we find, for example, in the work of Jacques Derrida.

Since its inception, the postmodern philosophical perspective has found wide acceptance not only within the arts, the hermeneutical disciplines and the human sciences in general, but especially (in the context of our current discussion) within the sphere of cultural and religious diversity. As such it is often asserted that all religious narratives are true in some way (Lyotard even celebrated the pluralism of the many gods of paganism in contrast with the one God of Judeo-Christianity). It has been argued that, since we as humans do not have an objective view on Truth (objectivity), there is no solid ground for us to assert the truth of one religious narrative over the other.

Although some atheistic scientists view postmodernism as the only alternative to their way of thinking – and rejects it outright as unscientific – this is actually a false dichotomy. There are philosophical perspectives that cannot be grouped with either of modernism or postmodernism. As such we may take a closer look at the criticism of modernism without implying that postmodernism is the answer.

A critique of modernism [2]

Although the Logical Empiricists saw themselves as the heirs of the Enlightenment, they at the same time knew that science made a dramatic leap forward when Newton's theory was replaced by Einstein's theories. One may think that Einstein’s theories are merely a more sophisticated understanding of the world which built upon that of Newton, but that is not the case. As Thomas Kuhn argued in his well-known The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), the shift from Newtonian science to that of Einstein involved a true revolution in which a whole paradigmatic view of the world was replaced with another. And one should not forget that Newton was wrong in some ways – think of the measurement of the orbital motion of the planet Mercury.

This place the question of objectivity at center stage. The modernists originally believed that Newton’s theory gave an objective view of the world, but they were wrong. How do we know (or prove!) that future generations would not also find fault with Einstein’s theories even though they are obviously much better than that of Newton? There is no way to show that Einstein's general relativity is a true measure of what reality is like (other more sophisticated theories that view the world differently have been proposed) even though it is obviously consistent with results within certain contexts. 

In fact, we have a competing theory in the form of quantum physics which view the world dramatically different from Einstein’s general relativity. Although scientists try to reconcile these two perspectives on the world, that does not change the fact the one is basically deterministic and the other non-deterministic. These are directly contradicting principles and there is no generally accepted view as to how these are to be reconciled. This merely accentuates the fact that our knowledge of the cosmos is limited and that we do not have an objective view on it.

Scientists often mention that the scientific method guarantees that data is correct and repeatable in experiment – even in quantum physics. There can be no doubt that this is indeed the case. The problem is, however, that one of the interpretations of quantum physics connects the outcomes directly with the involvement of the observer (even though this cannot be “proven”). Furthermore, even though “objective” data is obtained, the primary question is how that data is to be understood. What does it mean insofar as our understanding of the workings of the universe is concerned?

Since quantum entities are outside empirical reach during their pre-measurement phase, we do not really understand them. The mathematical equations which describe them do not place them in proper space in the case of quantum mechanics or proper space-time in Quantum Field Theory, but in an abstract Hilbert space (or abstract space-time manifold), which is irreducibly complex insofar as it can only be expressed in complex numbers. Science can only gain a direct understanding of things if they are presented in space-time – which is not the case with these quantum entities which merely “appear” in space-time when measured (in which case their characteristic behaviour have changed). As such, it eventually became clear that the verifiability criterion of the Logical Empiricists was not only untenable (quantum entities cannot be verified in their pre-measurement phase; the same is true for gravitational fields) but is itself in fact unverifiable!

This problem of the empirical access of quantum entities is also the reason why there are various well-known interpretations of quantum physics – none of which can claim to provide an objective understanding of our world (for example, the Copenhagen interpretation, Bohm's interpretation, Von Neumann's observer interpretation and the many-worlds interpretation). So, although we have “objective” data, an objective understanding of that data (and therefore knowledge as to what that means) is beyond the reach of science. In fact, science have absolutely no idea what lures in the world of quantum physics! Dark matter and dark energy have become household terms – but science does not know much of that either. In contrast with the view of the Logical Empiricists, the idea of the “metaphysics of science” has become an established feature of quantum physics in the philosophy of science.

The same is true for the human “sciences”. Although the scientific method is generally used, we have no idea what an objective understanding of such matters would entail! As is the case in quantum physics, such scientists are forever doomed to interpret the data – and there are about always various possible interpretations that present themselves. The result of this problem in science was that the Enlightenment ideal of absolute objectively has long since been dropped from serious discussion.

In fact, the ideas of the Logical Empiricists in this regard had been thoroughly discredited in current philosophical thinking. This, however, does not stop many scientists and atheists from (unconsciously) using this philosophical framework as the basis for their pronouncements about the nature of our universe. In fact, it often seems that they are not even aware that scientism is merely another metaphysical worldview – which falls in the very same category as religion! To the extent that they use contemporary science to say something about the “true” nature of our world – which according to them do not include God or gods (spiritual entities) – they engage with metaphysics. This is a metaphysics built upon an outdated modernist philosophical view about science.

Towards a viable philosophical model

In my view, the Kantian philosophical framework provides us with a middle of the road approach which does not only account for objectivity in science, but also for a viable understanding of the human sciences and humanities in general. Not only does it provide us with a balanced philosophical perspective of life (when we read Gadamer’s philosophy as expanding the Kantian project – see below), but it is also consistent with the Christian worldview.

The challenge for atheists – since modernism has been discredited – is not only to provide a viable philosophical framework which is not merely agnostic (as we find, for example, in Bas Van Fraassen’s Constructive Empiricism [3]) but which also provides us with positive tools for understanding our world. As I discussed previously in another essay (see part 3 of this series), atheists and agnostics may get away with not providing any consistent metaphysical worldview based on some kind of philosophical perspective, but that is not in tune with their appreciation of science in which our only measure of truth lies in testable theories – metaphysical ones, included.

Some readers may find it strange that I call upon an Enlightenment philosopher such as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to present a view that rejects modernism. There is, however, good reason to reject any identification of Kant with modernism. Although Kant accentuated reason in a way that was typical of his age, his theory of knowledge – which grounded Newtonian science and any kind of mathematical science, for that matter – is not one in which absolute objectivity feature. The reason is simple: in Kant’s view the observing subject (the thinking I) is grounded in the noumenal self (of which we cannot know anything) and objects are grounded in the noumenal realm, which means that we can never fully explore their true reality!

When Kant speaks of “objectivity” (or “truth”) he has something very specific in mind, namely that the empirical data which are given in our intuitions (as particulars) are brought under the rules given by our concepts (as universals) through determinate judgment (see part 2). So, when we judge that certain data conform with our theoretical model, we may say that we have achieved “objective” knowledge in that regard. This process, however, is not singularly determined – one may have data within certain contexts agreeing with simple models and data in other more complex situations agreeing with more sophisticated models (Kant nowhere says anything contrasting this). In this way, we may think of Newton’s theory as describing objective reality in classical contexts and Einstein’s theories as describing objective reality in relativistic contexts.

What is more, I argued elsewhere (part 4) that we may view Kant’s conception of “noumena” as consistent with quantum entities since Kant’s noumena are outside our forms of intuition, namely space and time. Although Kant argued that we cannot gain any knowledge of noumena, I previously also argued that Kant’s system may be reworked in such a way that it is consistent with quantum physics (part 4). In that case, we may gain knowledge of quantum entities in the context of their appearance in space-time, i.e. when they are observed. This is consistent with the work done by Hernán Pringe in his Critique of the Quantum Power of Judgment (2007).

Image result for gadamer image

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

What about “objectivity” in the human sciences? At this point, I bring the philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) into play. In his monumental work Truth and Method (1960), Gadamer presents his philosophy in terms of a hermeneutical understanding of the world in which the absolute objectivity of modernism in neo-Kantianism and elsewhere is rejected (this is an essential feature of the book) [4]. He asserts that all our interaction with the world – in the arts, the hermeneutical disciplines, the human sciences and even science itself – is always interpretation. When we understand something, we always interpret.

Gadamer takes the idea of the game or playing as a dynamic whole which embraces the human subject as a point of departure. He applies this to our human way of existing in the world, in which all experience is verbal in nature. In linguistic experience, our concepts “disappear” behind that what they bring to speech in our understanding of objects (p399) [5]. All understanding may be regarded as an “event”, as a “mode of being”, which is an interpretation within the context of experience. As such all meaning is understanding that involves application in some concrete situation, which Gadamer calls “concretization” (p328).

I suggest that the Kantian conception of “truth” (objective knowledge), which I discussed above, may be understood in terms of Gadamer’s idea of “concretization”, which is also understood in terms of the kinds of truth that we encounter in interpretation. As such it is important to remember that Kant’s concept of cognition is not first of all concerned with scientific cognition, but with cognition in the context of experience in general (it is only secondary applied to science). Although Gadamer’s philosophy is concerned with our cultural and historical conditionedness (and Kant not), this is not in conflict with the Kantian position but includes it as precondition since Kant thinks in terms of the basic “forms” of our understanding and intuition before any experience (as well as before our cultural and historical conditionedness), which find expression exactly within the context of experience.

In Kant’s philosophy, our gaining objective knowledge is possible only insofar as our concepts (understanding) are synthesized with our intuitions through the intermediate role of our imagination. As such the productive imagination produces images in accordance with a schema, i.e. the rules governing this process, in such a way that they are consistent with the object to be presented in intuition. This process involves the play of the productive imagination within the framework of the rules governing the process. It is not only our understanding that is actively involved in the achievement of knowledge, the idea of “play” is very much part of this process.

Clearly, the Kantian conception of the process which results in our obtaining truth (gaining “objective” knowledge) is consistent with Gadamer’s idea of understanding viewed as play in the context of games structured according to rules [6]. In fact, I think that Gadamer’s idea in this regard may have originated in Kant’s philosophy, which had a great influence on Gadamer’s own work. We may, therefore, think of Kant’s concept of our obtaining knowledge in Gadamerian terms as an “event of understanding” within the context of human experience [7].

One may ask: What is gained by reworking the Kantian system within the context of Gadamer’s philosophy. Well, in this way the Kantian approach can be expanded from the natural sciences to the human sciences and hermeneutical disciplines. What is especially important about the Kantian system, is that it provides us with a measure in which “objective” knowledge can be distinguished from mere illusions of knowledge through the use of determinate judgment. Now, this very same measure may be applied to the human sciences and hermeneutical disciplines without trying to achieve absolute objectivity. This merely ensures that the various interpretations that we allow in these fields are consistent with the data – and that one does not end up with an anything-goes situation which postmodern philosophy is often accused of.

When we view judgment as part of the “event of understanding”, this new approach provides us with the tools through which we can distinguish between sensible interpretations, where the conceptual models agree with the empirical facts, and non-sensible interpretations where this is not the case, not merely within the framework of the natural and human sciences but also in the context of hermeneutical disciplines where texts are so considered. Following Gadamer, we may say that in this case, the hermeneutical “object” refers to the subject matter of the text that is interpreted. The interpreter and interpreted are brought together in a “fusion of horizons” in which the horizon of the reader is fused with that of the text in the event of interpretation.

When viewed from a Kantian angle, we can now distinguish which interpretations are sensible ones and which are not, i.e. whether the interpretation is consistent with the data presented in the text as well as that belonging to the historical horizon from which it originated [8]. The difference with modernist philosophy is that there is no aspiration towards absolute objectivity – various sensible interpretations of the situation (such as in quantum physics or the human sciences) may be possible. This approach does not value the plurality of (subjective) interpretation in its own right as we find in postmodernism. On the metaphysical front, one may use this philosophical approach to even evaluate metaphysical narratives insofar as these describe our engagement with the world, including religious texts such as the Bible.

Good and bad hermeneutics in Gadamer

When we consider scholarly fields such as history or textual hermeneutics, Gadamer’s approach show why the modernist approach is not valid. The main feature of the modernist approach is that it tries to obtain objectivity – which results in “historical consciousness” aimed at “a truly historical viewpoint on everything” (p225), where scholars think of themselves as standing apart from history or the texts that they study. Gadamer argues that all interpreters are not only situated within a certain culture (which may include a scholarly paradigm) but also brings certain fore-understandings to their study. Nobody can achieve a purely “objective” perspective [9] – we are all affected by the traditions and texts that we are studying. Gadamer calls this “historically effected consciousness”.

When it comes to the study of the Biblical text, the modernist grounding of the historico-critical method resulted in an understanding of that text in which the prejudices against Biblical tradition (so clearly on display in many circles during the Enlightenment) were very much part of the mindset of the scholars who thought of themselves as “objective”. As such they totally rejected the witness testimony recorded in the text [10] and replaced that with reason. Gadamer writes in Truth and Method:

In general, the Enlightenment tends to accept no authority and to decide everything before the judgment seat of reason. Thus the written tradition of Scripture, like any other historical document, can claim no absolute validity; the possible truth of the tradition depends on the credibility that reason accords it. It is not tradition but reason that constitutes the ultimate source of all authority. What is written down is not necessarily true. We can know better: this is the maxim with which the modern Enlightenment approaches tradition and which ultimately leads it to undertake historical research. It takes tradition as an object of critique, just as the natural sciences do with the evidence of the senses...This is the point at which the attempt to critique historical hermeneutics has to start. The overcoming of all prejudices, this global demand of the Enlightenment, will itself prove to be a prejudice, and removing it opens the way to an appropriate understanding of the finitude which dominates not only our humanity but also our historical consciousness.” (p274, 277; see also p342)

This means that the traditional approach of Biblical Criticism is deeply flawed – it afforded itself a misplaced superior position above traditional scholarship [11]. In fact, its whole method in approaching the Biblical text – and all the conclusions drawn from that which became part of its academic paradigm – is suspect and may even be regarded as discredited insofar as it is based on false premises. One is not amazed that some students and scholars who followed this approach to the Bible have themselves become agnostics and even atheists – this seems to be the logical outcome if one takes modernism to its logical conclusion. Biblical Criticism regarded as a "scientific discipline" had an enormous impact on societal thinking regarding the Bible, which is why so many people merely accept that it is an untrustworthy witness of history.

In a rather strong critique of the historico-critical method Gadamer writes:

A person who believes he is free of prejudices, relying on the objectivity of his procedures and denying that he is himself conditioned by historical circumstances, experiences the power of the prejudices that unconsciously dominate him as a vis a tergo. A person who does not admit that he is dominated by prejudices will fail to see what manifests itself by their light. It is like the relation between I and Thou. A person who reflects himself out of the mutuality of such a relation changes this relationship and destroys its moral bond. A person who reflects himself out of a living relationship to tradition destroys the true meaning of this tradition in exactly the same way. In seeking to understand tradition, historical consciousness must not rely on the critical method with which it approaches its sources, as if this preserved it from mixing in its own judgments and prejudices. It must, in fact, think within its own historicity. To be situated within a tradition does not limit the freedom of knowledge but makes it possible.” (Ibid p354)

What Gadamer suggests is a totally different approach. It is not an approach which accepts tradition uncritically, but one which makes an effort to really listen to the text and the tradition from which it originated as if one is partaking in a conversation. As such one does not try to “dominate” the text from a superior position; rather, you allow the text to speak on its own terms: “Hermeneutics in the sphere of philology and the historical sciences is not ‘knowledge as domination’—i.e., an appropriation as taking possession; rather, it consists in subordinating ourselves to the text's claim to dominate our minds.” (p310)

Conclusion

In this essay, I discuss the relatioship between modernism and atheism. Although I do not think that all atheists hold a modernist view of reality, I have argued that most of them probably do. That include atheists and agnostics from both a natural and human sciences background – where the modernist approach has blinded many into thinking that "objective" science is the only true measure of reality. Since the idea of an objective view on the world has been discredited in science (especially in quantum physics) and modernism in philosophy, we know today that this cannot be the case. The problem for atheism is that the general rejection of modernism has effectively discredited the kind of atheism built upon that way of thinking!

The challenge for atheists – as I see it – is to produce a balanced philosophical framework that takes account of all the complexities of life which is consistent with their metaphysical worldview. In contrast, Christianity has always been able to show that it aligns itself with good philosophy. Historically this had been the case in the acceptance of Platonic philosophy in the Augustine tradition and the acceptance of Aristotelian philosophy in the Thomasian tradition.

Closer to our own time, we may remind ourselves that Kant himself was a Christian and that he tried to argue for the Christian viewpoint regarding metaphysics and morality. During the twentieth century, some of the greatest philosophers of hermeneutics such as Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur were Christians. The interesting fact is that these philosophers always presented a sensible philosophical framework which stood the middle ground. I showed how we may read Kant from a Gadamerian perspective to bring his ideas in line with contemporary thinking. This provides a healthy and sound philosophical perspective in which the Christian worldview can flourish [12].

[1] “A statement is meaningful if and only if it can be proved true or false, at least in principle, by means of the experience - this assertion is called the verifiability principle [aka the 'verifiability criterion of meaning']. The meaning of a statement is its method of verification; that is we know the meaning of a statement if we know the conditions under which the statement is true or false.” http://www.loyno.edu/~folse/logpos.htm
[2] This is absolutely not a detailed discussion of the topic. In the context of this essay, I present merely some basic aspects insofar as it is relevant to the topic and presentable to a lay audience.
[3] Constructive Empiricism stands in contrast with Logical Empiricism. It holds that science aims only at the truth of observable aspects of the world (not unobservable aspects) and that its theories aim to be empirically adequate: “a theory is empirically adequate exactly if what it says about the observable things and events in the world is true” (van Fraassen in The Scientific Image, 1980, p12).
[4] Since Gadamer is not well-known to those from the analytic philosophy tradition, I include various quotes from his work in this essay. He writes in Truth and Method regarding understanding: “understanding is never a subjective relation to a given ‘object’ but to the history of its effect; in other words, understanding belongs to the being of that which is understood” (pxxviii) and “The alienation of the interpreter from the interpreted by the objectifying methods of modern science, characteristic of the hermeneutics and historiography of the nineteenth century, appeared as the consequence of a false objectification” (p312). When one’s belonging to history is acknowledged, understanding nonetheless still involves (as in the two-aspect interpretation of Kant’s philosophy) that particulars be brought under rules in judgment. He writes in Truth and Method: “Understanding, then, is a special case of applying something universal to a particular situation.” (p310)
[5] In contrast with the Logical Empiricists for whom only statements verifiable through empirical observation are cognitively meaningful, Gadamer takes our whole being in the world as meaningful. He writes: “Our verbal experience of the world is prior to everything that is recognized and addressed as existing. That language and world are related in a fundamental way does not mean, then, that world becomes the object of language. Rather, the object of knowledge and statements is always already enclosed within the world horizon of language. That human experience of the world is verbal does not imply that a world-in-itself is being objectified. The world of objects that science knows, and from which it derives its own objectivity, is one of the relativities embraced by language's relation to the world.” (Ibid p447)
[6] There is a difference between Kant’s concept of the “play” of the imagination, which is a formal conception in terms of our human faculties, and Gadamer’s concept of play, which views it as a dynamic whole (p53). However, insofar as Kant’s concept is not merely subjective, one can easily see that it is in line with that of Gadamer’s conception of “playing” insofar as our understanding is concerned. Gadamer’s observation in Truth and Method that “play has its own essence, independent of the consciousness of those who play” (p103), is also true of Kant’s conception of the play in the imagination of which we are not particularly conscious.
[7] In the traditional two-object interpretation of Kant’s philosophy, the object in our mind is distinct from the real object in the world – as such the thinking I stands in some way opposed to the object of cognition situated outside our minds. The two-aspect interpretation sees it differently: the very same object is regarded from two perspectives, namely as presented in perception as well as beyond that. The last view implies that concepts do not bring form to empirical data given in intuition (as in the two-object view); the form of the empirical object is already included in its presentation in intuition. As such cognition involves merely a particularization of the generalized a priori “object”. In this case, we may regard cognition as an event of understanding through determinate judgment which is not so much reflective as it is synthetic (to use Kant’s expression). For both Kant (in the two-aspect view) and Gadamer, this involves a concretization (to use Gadamer's terminology) in which a judgment is made in the context of experience that includes both subject and object in one dynamic process. Insofar as Kant’s concept of cognition is included in Gadamer’s concept of “concretization”, we may say that Kant’s epistemology becomes part of Gadamer’s hermeneutics. As such the scientific model of epistemology based on Kant’s work which centers on methodology is forever subservient to our hermeneutical being in the world.
[8] The distinction between sensible and non-sensible interpretations is only possible insofar as concepts are included in the process of understanding. When they are not – such as in the evaluation of art – the mentioned criterion does not apply. In this case we may remind ourselves that Kant distinguished between two kinds of judgment in the process of understanding things. The one is determinitive judgment which is used in cognition; the other is reflective judgment which is used in evaluating art. In this case, Kant allows in his philosophy of aesthetics in his Critique of the Power of Judgment for the free play of the understanding and imagination without the involvement of concepts. This draws the line between interpretations in the framework of “knowledge” claims and that where no knowledge claims are made. This does not mean that only scientific knowledge is allowed – there may be other sources of knowledge such as divine revelation which I discuss in the next part of the series.
[9] Gadamer writes in Truth and Method: “In contrast to the mere givenness of the phenomena of objective consciousness, a givenness in intentional experiences, this reflection constitutes a new dimension of research. For there is such a thing as givenness that is not itself the object of intentional acts. Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after, and finally fuses with the continuum of the experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience.” (p237)
[10] Gadamer writes: “Even as the scholarly interpretation of the theologian, it must never forget that Scripture is the divine proclamation of salvation. Understanding it, therefore, cannot simply be a scientific or scholarly exploration of its meaning.” (Ibid p327).
[11] See also my own essay in this regard: A critique of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline
[12] What is the task of the Christian philosopher? In my view, it is not to return to the scholastics or to become embroiled in the petty thinking of analytic philosophy, but to work towards exploring the middle position in philosophy in the footsteps of the great philosophers mentioned. I do not think that Christian philosophers should try to prove the correctness of Christianity (Kant and Nietzsche have dismantled that avenue); they should rather show that the Christian narrative is consistent with reality, worthy to be trusted and makes more sense than any of the other competing metaphysical narratives.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
Dialoger

The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, and science.

Science, Philosophy, and God. Part 1: The problem of spontaneity in quantum mechanics
Science, Philosophy, and God. Part 2: Science and our restricted human understanding
Science, Philosophy, and God. Part 3: Science and metaphysics: in search of Russell's teapot
                                                      A new argument for the existence of God
Science, Philosophy, and God. Part 4. Science and the spiritual realm
Science, Philosophy, and God. Part 5. In defense of the soul